At a Glance
- LaunchPad Medical utilized microgravity conditions on the ISS National Laboratory to study the effectiveness of their injectable bone adhesive, Tetranite®.
- Tetranite® has the potential to promote bone growth and speed recovery of patients with bone fractures, particularly those with osteoporosis.
- The visibility provided to startup companies through the MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize” is invaluable.
- Doing an experiment on the ISS National Laboratory can elevate research to a whole new level, and companies interested in space-based research should reach out to the ISS National Lab to see what is possible.
Brian Hess is CEO of LaunchPad Medical, a startup based in Lowell, Massachusetts. LaunchPad Medical was awarded a MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize” from the ISS National Laboratory and Boeing in 2015. At the 2019 ISS Research and Development Conference, Hess was a panelist in the session “Accelerating Startups in Space,” which discussed how the ISS National Laboratory is serving as a business accelerator in space.
Learn more about the MassChallenge Technology in Space Prize and LaunchPad Medical’s research onboard the ISS National Laboratory in the Upward feature “Accelerating Entrepreneurs to Space: Mass Challenge Grantees Move Early-Stage Innovations Forward."
(Photo courtesy of LaunchPad Medical)
It’s ironic that our company named itself LaunchPad Medical because our inspiration was to take challenging ideas and materials and launch them into the medical space to revolutionize health care. LaunchPad Medical worked as a concept in that regard, but the exposure to space-based research through the Boston-based MassChallenge accelerator program is how we took our research to a whole new level that we hadn’t even thought about: space. As an engineer, I’ve long held a general interest in space, but it never dawned on me to take my research to the International Space Station (ISS).
In developing our injectable bone adhesive, Tetranite®, we began by thinking about how we might solve many of the problems that patients with osteoporosis face: bone fragility, breakage, and the challenges presented by surgical components used to fuse together broken bones. Our injectable synthetic biomaterial serves as an adhesive, holding broken bone together while promoting bone growth and is intended to replace (or at very least augment or reduce) the rods and screws that have historically been used to surgically repair bone breakages. But when it came to testing Tetranite®, we’d never thought about space-based research.
It was at a MassChallenge presentation that I first heard about research on the space station. I learned about the effects of microgravity on astronaut bone health and that without intervention, even a short stay in reduced gravity on the space station can drastically reduce bone mass in astronauts, mimicking the symptoms of osteoporosis here on Earth. That’s really where the idea of conducting space-based research originated.
Our experiment, which launched to the ISS U.S. National Laboratory in December 2017, studied the response of osteoblasts (a bone cell subtype responsible for renewing bones) to Tetranite®. We were excited to find that in the conditions of space-induced rapid bone loss, the osteoblasts responded to Tetranite® by displaying growth and bone-forming behaviors. Our spaceflight project has contributed not only to advancing the research and development of our bone adhesive but also to accelerating its path to market. We’re currently working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin our first human trial with Tetranite®.
One thing I would say to other companies preparing to conduct research in space is that budgeting for delays is essential. Our research required us to start our cell culture experiment on Earth just days before liftoff. Flight delays, which are common with rocket launches, announced a week or more before launch were no problem because we could reschedule, but last-minute delays of a few days or so meant that we had to “scrap” the samples we had prepared and start again. I think we prepared five or six replicates of our experiment before our actual launch to be prepared for many different scenarios.
The visibility we garnered through MassChallenge and the “Technology in Space Prize” co-sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory and Boeing was invaluable. Our research was featured on the news, and the media coverage, along with the prize, created a buzz around our company and gave us the credibility that prospective investors were seeking, and we secured additional funding as a result.
If I can get one message across it’s this: You can’t even imagine the research possibilities available to you on the space station. One conversation with someone from the ISS National Laboratory could help you clarify research objectives and identify how your ideas might be tested or advanced in space. Microgravity, the unique vantage point of the station, and exposure to the harsh conditions of space can provide valuable information that’s not accessible here on Earth. For us, it’s rapid bone loss. For another company, it could be materials testing through exposure to the space environment. You just don’t know until you learn exactly what’s possible through the ISS National Laboratory.